Healthcare brand image: How to build it and back it up

Though “patient engagement” has been lauded by experts as a “must do” for the last few years, research and discussion has proven that it’s still critical as patients’ needs and demands continue to evolve.

Today’s patient is now also a healthcare consumer, responsible for an increasing portion of the finances related to their care and more empowered to make informed decisions regarding their health.

Whether you’re a healthcare provider or a vendor that provides products and services to these providers, understanding how to attract and retain this new, more informed patient — and having a grasp of the increasing pressures facing the industry as a whole — is necessary to survive in these changing times. It begins with brand image.

An Industry Saturated in Sameness

In the healthcare space, there is often significant overlap in positioning. That’s why, identifying “the differentiated sweet spot,” or two to three PODs (points of distinction) is an essential step in the brand strategy process. This means identifying things that set your brand apart from others in the space. It’s taking a step back to ask “what do they look like and what are they saying about themselves, and how can I do it differently? How can I do it better?”

All too often, healthcare brands look at their competition for inspiration in what to say. The reality is that you should look at the competition and try to find ways to say it differently and in a more meaningful way. The key is to differentiate yourself within a crowded market, and typically you will find that brands within a specific category are saying all the same things in the same ways. Those organizations that exhibit a solution to the pain points their customer are facing — whether it’s financial struggles, or on the provider side, the need to continually respond to government regulations and the pressure for upgraded technology — will have a clear advantage.

This holds true when it comes to your brand image as well — break the mold. Within the healthcare industry, you’ll often see a lot of green and blue logos and palettes. (Traditionally understood to convey “trust.”) Yet, the brands that are really setting themselves apart now are the ones using oranges, reds, purples and other “pop” colors that are typically considered to be less conservative. These colors will make brands more memorable, particularly within an industry that tends to sway more to the conservative side.

Creating a Patient-Centric Culture

As patients are much more deliberate when evaluating potential providers than ever before (and less likely to remain with a provider if they’re unhappy with the care or treatment received), healthcare brands and vendors must stand out, exude trust, and have an appreciation of the patient experience. This means, taking care to build a patient-focused brand culture, starting from the inside-out (with physicians and administrative staff) and consistently delivering on the brand’s value promises at every patient touch point.

An old Harvard Business Review study showed that fewer than 5% of employees within organizations are typically familiar with, or understand, their companies' brand strategies. It's difficult, if not nearly impossible, to deliver on your brand's promise if the entire team is not immersed in what the brand stands for. It’s more than just crafting messaging — for the brand identity to truly be effective, the brand values, mission, and expectations must be ingrained internally within the brand culture. Socialize your strategy, along with your outward-facing image, to become a culture that is driven by crafting exceptional experiences for patients, prospective patients, clients, and even colleagues.

Those healthcare organizations with a well-communicated patient-focused branding strategy should also ensure that the caregivers possess a thorough understanding of the patient journey — the steps taken by the patient in the selection of a provider and the ways in which the patient navigates the treatment, recovery, and payment processes. The savviest will incorporate digital technologies, such as portals, blogs, or fitness trackers at each of these key touch points to increase engagement, build trust, and create an overall satisfying patient experience.

Bring in a Third Party for Objective Analysis

With regards to finding a partner to help you execute against this, the first question to ask yourself is, "do I need a partner?" And, 99.9% of the time, the answer should be "yes."

When attempting to identify what makes a healthcare brand different or special, an objective, third party will always make this an easier task. The perspective of an outsider is invaluable. Look for a partner who will conduct both qualitative and quantitative research with internal stakeholders, patients and prospective patients, while also conducting a comprehensive audit of other brands in your space.

Development of your healthcare brand is an important, yet highly personal and interactive exercise. Take it seriously, communicate openly, and always budget the time and resources necessary to get to a place where you are 100% satisfied with the work.

All of this together, will help you create a high-performing healthcare brand.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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